Dave Koz and Friends Smooth Jazz Christmas Dec. 19, 2009
By Glen Creason
Number thirteen did not prove unlucky for the Smooth Jazz Christmas show at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night. In a Baker’s dozen show history at Cerritos this contingent has provided lively and most certainly colorful shows in front of consistently packed houses. Over the years the group has formed, scattered and now re-formed into the originals again to make a pretty powerful musical juggernaut. This quintet includes leader Dave Koz on Saxophone, Peter White on guitar, Rick Braun on trumpet, Brenda Russell on vocals and the quietly amazing David Benoit on piano. First and foremost we must banish the idea that this Wave music is not some gentle noodling but a rather stimulating and splashy sound that demonstrates the yuletide classics in a refreshing way.
The show is large and filled with humor along with some rather contemplative moments. After a curtain raising medley where sketches of tunes were handed from one artist to another as in the prelude to a Broadway musical the whole cloth of Christmas was unfolded. This little sampler of “Hark the Herald Angels/ Jingle Bells/ Santa Claus is Coming to Town” wet appetites and then Peter White and Brenda Russell lulled the audience into the holiday groove on the perfectly appropriate” Christmas Song.” The first portion of the show mixed smooth hits with the songs of the season as Brenda Russell crooned “A Little Bit of Love,” Rick Braun saluted Herb Alpert with the peppy “Tijuana Dance” and Peter White bent some heartstrings with a sweet tribute to the late Waymon Tisdale called “Bright.” In between they kept the Christmas spirit alive with a bouncy calypso “Sleigh Ride,” a showy “White Christmas,” Brenda Russell’s original “Christmas Card” and the rousing David Benoit finish of the music of the Charlie Brown Christmases. It is especially invigorating to hear those Vince Guaraldi composed gems from 1965 ringing so true here in 2009 including the truly evergreen “Christmastime Is Here,” “Skating,” and the instant holiday joy of “Linus and Lucy.”
The second half was more good fun and music beginning with a group effort on “Little Drummer Boy” that woke up the audience after intermission beverages. The swing was put back into the proceedings with “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by Brenda Russell and the corny but effective sing-along of “Silent Night” by Peter White had a rather spiritual bent. Again, the show broke the holiday spell for hits that were well received including the tender “Emma’s Song” by Rick Braun, the rocking Chanukah song “Eight Candles” by Dave Koz that featured the work of the extraordinarily charismatic bassist Bill Sharpe. “Love Will Find You” by Peter White, a wild and wooly Benoit excursion called “Freedom at Midnight” and the soul-stirring anthem “Get Here” by Brenda Russell kept the quality high. The sure-fire pulse quickening "Grazin' in the Grass" was spiced by the sax and sexy demeanor of Misti Abair joining horns with Rick Brain and leader Dave Koz who again took point on “You Make Me Smile” where the rest of the band joined on an extended jam that warmed the holiday blood of an entire auditorium into and including the Christmas encores that followed.